Great Neck Library Board President Robert Schaufeld, who first ran – and won – as an independent trustee candidate in October 2014, said he entered that race so he could be an advocate for the Levels teen center.
Now, Schaufeld said in an interview, he is seeking re-election to see through several ongoing projects, despite not securing the endorsement of the library’s Nominating Committee, which vets and recommends candidates.
“I have a number of things that I wanted to see completed and I wanted to make sure there was some continuity on the board so that these initiatives would not lose steam in the transition,” Schaufeld said.
Schaufeld said on Thursday he is running against Scott Sontag for the seat of Francine Ferrante Krupski rather than Mimi Hu, who is running for his seat.
The Nominating Committee has also endorsed David Zielenziger to run for the seat of Joel Marcus, who did not seek re-election, and Trustee Josie Pizer to run for the seat vacated by Douglas Hwee, who was terminated for alleged misconduct.
The Nominating Committee also nominated Francine Ferrante Krupski, who served on the library board for six years but resigned halfway through her second term because she was traveling and wanted to spend more time with her grandchildren, for the Nominating Committee seat currently held by Howard Esterces.
The panel also selected William Gens for the Nominating Committee seat of Donald Panetta and Alex Au for Samuel Gottlieb’s seat, which was vacated not long after his election last year due to work commitments.
“Josie [Pizer] and I were the only incumbents that submitted for re-election,” Schaufeld noted.
Schaufeld said he wants to help see through finishing touches for the Main Library, such as fixing lingering HVAC and roofing issues and a landscaping project to beautify the area surrounding the building.
“The landscaping project at Main has been something that I’ve been directly involved with since the beginning,” Schaufeld said.
Additionally, he said the library has been making a “concerted effort” to increase the number of readily accessible books.
“We’re reorganizing shelving and there’s going to be a significant increase of the books that are visible to the patrons and the size of the collection,” Schaufeld said. “Right now there’s a backlog in technical services, which is the part of the library that processes the books and makes them shelf ready.”
Other things the library board is looking to do include upgrading the servers, the library’s website, improving access to the local history room, updating the computers and reinitiating a program for book sales, he said.
“There was a great deal of community discussion about books in the library and the board had a moratorium on any sale of books, pending further discussion,” Schaufeld said.
The board is also in the process of creating a book acquisition advisory committee that will make recommendations to administrators, he added.
“It’ll be created by board policy and it’s purely advisory, but it will give another means of community input into the direction of acquisitions,” Schaufeld said.
Another project Schaufeld said he hopes to help see through is the renovation of the Parkville and Station branch libraries, whose design plans were approved earlier this year, as well as ordering new furniture for the Lakeville branch.
“I think we’re hoping to see a more open and inviting environment that is cohesive for each of the branches so that each branch seems to have its own unique identity reflected by the design and make better use of the space,” Schaufeld said.
Another item on the board’s agenda is finishing collective bargaining agreements.
“We had signed a memorandum of understanding with the staff last year, which I was very pleased about, and we are in active negotiations with the supervisors union,” Schaufeld said.
Additionally, Schaufeld said Trustee Rebecca Miller has a “pet project” of sustainability and that when they first discussed it, he said he felt it was a “great idea.”
“We are trying to come up with a comprehensive plan ultimately to deal with sustainability of resources for the Main Library and the branches because we think the environment is very important and the public awareness of the impact of different things on the environment is very important,” Schaufeld said.
He also described the library director, Denise Corcoran, whom the board hired in January, as someone dedicated to community outreach and wanting to make the Great Neck Library “an example of what a world class library can be.”
“She believes that the library should be a centerpiece of the cultural fiber of the peninsula and she is out there. She definitely stands out,” Schaufeld said. “She believes in the Great Neck Library and takes this job very personally.”
Immediately preceding Corcoran was Kathy Giotsas, whom the board fired last year. Previous directors in the last five years, interim and not, included Jane Marino, who resigned after a $20.8 million bond referendum was defeated, Laura Weir and Chris Johnson. Giotsas had been serving since Aug. 3, 2015, before Tracy Geiser took over as interim director in May 2017 following Giotsas’ termination.
When asked about his own vision for the Great Neck Library, Schaufeld said the library must “change with the times.”
“We both believe that as the community’s needs change, the library has to be receptive to what that community wants and needs and change to offer that,” Schaufeld said.
Investing in a STEM lab, reconfiguring the children’s area, investing in more diverse books and adding more shelving are some examples of this, he said.
Schaufeld also said he’d like to see an initiative to get more residents to have library cards so they can take advantage of the services.
“We’re a community center that happens to have books,” he said.
Schaufeld said that one of the most important accomplishments was the systemwide installation of an RFID system, which catalogs library books, allows for self-checkout and gives the staff more flexibility “to do other things.”
“Under the old system, there was really no way to know what books were on hand, where they were, and now everything that’s physically present will show up on the computer,” Schaufeld said.
He said he was also happy with an AV system in the community room that allows for high-definition video and surround sound, as well as the downstairs gallery – which had been closed during the Main Library renovations – being used for art shows.
Schaufeld also said that he believes the Levels center has been revitalized since the Main Library reopened.
“We have new high-tech lighting and audio, which makes the shows that much more enjoyable,” he said. “And prior to the library closing, Levels never had air conditioning, so now it’s a very comfortable environment.”
Schaufeld added that the program is doing “very well” and that the library is working on being able to broadcast shows from Levels again.
Great Neck Library elections will take place on Monday, Oct. 29.
Correction: This article incorrectly said that Robert Schaufeld is running against Mimi Hu. Schaufeld said on Thursday that he is running against Scott Sontag, who was endorsed for Francine Krupski’s seat, not Hu.